By Amy Guckeen Tolson, USAG RedstoneAugust 27, 2010
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- He never expected his life to change, but he could not be more grateful that the Employee Assistance Program and Richard Lewis were there when it did.
It was late evening last fall when an engineer on the Arsenal was simply going about his everyday business - driving home after a visit with his mother-in-law in Huntsville - when out of nowhere a man appeared in front of him. Unable to stop in time, the engineer's vehicle struck the man, knocking him 40 feet and killing him instantly. Within minutes the engineer went from being just an average joe to the subject of news investigations and police reports.
Recounting the story to fellow Arsenal employee Ruby Turner the next day, Turner recommended he pay a visit to Richard Lewis with the Employee Assistance Program. While the recommendation gave him pause at first, it has changed the path of his life.
"It is a really bad feeling knowing you've killed somebody," he said, despite the fact that he faced no charges and multiple witnesses said there was nothing he could have done to avoid the accident. "It literally gets to you... I was not suicidal, but I was really bummed. It's like I was in a hole I couldn't get out of."
In a way, one might say Lewis is the helping hand or rope to pull Redstone Arsenal employees and their families out of the holes or "problems in living" they encounter throughout life, such as work stress, grief, financial issues, anxiety, balancing work and life, depression, substance abuse or problems at home. The confidential and free program provided under Army Regulation 600-85 is open to civilians, military retirees and their families.
"A lot of people think by not thinking about it, they're addressing it," said Lewis, a licensed counselor.
You're not addressing it until you pick up the phone - and that's all it takes to start the Employee Assistance Program process. After an appointment is set up with Lewis, you'll meet to talk about what stressors you're facing in your life and figure out where to go from there. While some are able to do short-term counseling with Lewis, others may get referred to other appropriate resources for long-term care, while continuing to follow up with Lewis. No matter what happens, the bottom line is simple: "Let's talk about this and resolve these issues," Lewis said.
For the engineer, that's all it took. Just talking with Lewis in 50-minute sessions scheduled over the course of several weeks helped him work through the stress that taking another human being's life had caused.
"It was still a real bummer," he reiterated of his first few visits with Lewis. "I was in a hole, and I felt like I wanted to be out of it. It's sad, it's unfortunate, but I couldn't do it. It's like I could not pull myself out.
"Then all of a sudden after several weeks, it's like something clicked. It was a process he was going through. To me, he just helped me get out of a hole I think I would've been in for a long time if I hadn't talked to him. It definitely helped me kind of get back to normal as quick as possible. Luckily I followed Ruby's advice and went to him almost immediately. He's special."
A lot of the clients Lewis sees come through referrals in the work force. With many co-workers having spent years with each other, oftentimes sharing anecdotes from their personal lives, they know when something is amiss.
"They've been together for years and they know when their co-worker is troubled," Lewis said. "When your life is just falling apart, most of the time you're going to talk to someone about it. You may have a co-worker going through trouble and you know from talking about it they don't have the resources to deal with it."
When that is the case, Lewis said, be a battle buddy and call him for help. Just by talking through the situation he can help you figure out how to best help your troubled co-worker. And sometimes, that's offering to pay a visit to Lewis with them yourself.
"See if you can get them to come with you," Lewis said. "There is just something about somebody caring about you and saying, 'We're here because we care.'"
The EAP is not only in place because the Army cares, but also because it builds a healthier, more resilient Team Redstone.
"The healthier and the more stress free an employee's life is, the healthier the workplace, the higher the productivity and the better the morale," Lewis said.
To seek help in the Employee Assistance Program, or to find out what you can do to help a co-worker that may be going through a troubling time, call Lewis at 842-9897 or visit building 3204 on Little John Road. You'll be glad you did, the engineer said.
"Richard's just a really good man. He cares about people, he really does," he said. "He's a gift, ain't no doubt about that."